Virginia House Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss jauntily entered a General Assembly Building elevator here the other day, spied Babara Pratt and promptly planted a kiss on the cheek of the startled Common Cause lobbyist.
"Haven't you ever had an uncontrollable urge?" Moss asked, according to Pratt, who says she stared at the Norfolk Democrat and powerful committee chairman in disbelief. Later, when Pratt appeared at a public subcommittee meeting to monitor a freedom of information bill, she said Moss could not let the matter drop.
"How do you feel about elevators?" she remembers him teasing her before a group of legislators. "I get turned on in elevators."
Del. Elise B. Heinz (D-Arlington/Alexandria) also recoiled last week when another male legislator pinched her cheek and addressed her during a subcommittee meeting as "you little devil."
For Heinz, such treatment was only a slight improvement from her early days as a freshman when she says veteran Del. Donald A. McGlothlin Sr. (D-Buchanan) invited her to "sit on his lap." After she declined, she recalled, he advised her "that kind of attitude wasn't the way women accomplish things in Richmond."
Most men in the General Assembly shrug off such incidents as jokes or even expressions of affection.
But to many women legislators, lobbyists and assembly aides, they are examples of patronizing behavior and low-level sexual harassment they encounter almost daily in the marble halls of the State Capitol.
Moss, for one, complains that the women are being "too sensitive" about the off-hand remarks or antics of the men. "I guess we're going to have to walk around here like zombies," Moss said.
"If that [the elevator incident] had happened to me," says Pratt's predecessor, Judy Goldberg, now a lobbyist of the American Civil Liberties Union, "I would have said 'you do that again and it will be sexual assault.' And I would have gone to the speaker."
House Speaker A. L. Philpott (D-Henry) said he was aware of past problems with the behavior of some legislators but had not received any complaints this year.
If he had, "it would concern me very much. I'm probably too much of a moralist but some of those things I cannot tolerate . . . none of us wants to see any of that Fanne Fox crap around here," said Philpott, referringng to the stripper involved with former Rep. Wilbur Mills in 1974.
Philpott discounted stories about Moss, calling the majority leader "just a cut-up," and adding that his reputation as a ladies' man "has gone down the drain this year" now that he has "a pretty young wife."
From interviews with all nine women in the 140-member assembly and more than two dozen other women who work in the legislature, however, it is clear that a significant number of women believe they have special problems operating effectively here.
Six current women legislaltors said on the record that attitudes held by certain of their male colleagues make work difficult or at times affect legislation.
While conceding that some examples of those male attitudes were open to different interpretation or questions of intent, the persons interviewed agreed to essence that women see themselves shouldering a burden not shared by the men here.
While stressing that their comments didn't apply to all men in the legislature, most of the women agreed there is a heavy sexual undercurrent in their dealings with the male-dominated political and bureaucratic establishment here.
Several of the women said they have learned first-hand about what some call the "myth" of the Virginia gentleman, and many discussed the subtle -- and not so subtle -- ways in which the men they work with make their jobs more difficult.
"Many people aren't aware that the courtesy and sort of pedestal approach used by Southern gentlemen is really kind of a put-down of women," said a male lobbyist who declined to be quoted by name because "I have to work with these guys."
The courtesy, he said, at times "is in place of paying attention to the honest opinions of women." He recently warned a woman visitor from Vermont that the Virginia men she was about to meet "want to flatter, not listen."
Beverly Rawlings, a former legislative aide, put it another way: "Did you ever notice that on a pedestal there's no movement?"
In addition to the Equal Rights Amendment, defeated for the eighth straight time this year, bills aimed at improving the legal status of women have failed repeatedly in Virginia over the last several years. Currently, the state's legal code ranks among the nation's least equitable for women, according to pro-ERA lawmakers.
Part of the problem, according to Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), is that legislation involving marital property rights, divorce, sexual assault and sterilization carries the potential for vast social change -- something that makes the predominantly conservative and middle-aged male lawmakers nervous.
But it doesn't help matters, argues Heinz, that the men considering such legislation "snicker, giggle and poke fun at it like a bunch of adolescents."
House Majority Leader Moss concedes that "there's a certain faction up here" that might not see women as equals, "but I'm not part of it."
Discussing the elevator incident and other stories about him, Moss said that perhaps his humor had been misunderstood.
"I'm an outgoing person . . . I do kid a lot," he said.
The majority leader said the elevator incident stemmed from his longstanding dispute with Common Cause over that group's pet issues, especially its push for single member districts in the House.
He said he was trying to show the Common Cause lobbyist that "I love you anyway," despite past clashes with Judy Goldberg, the earlier Common Cause lobbyist.
"I was trying to be kind, I didn't know she would get upset," Moss said.
McGlothlin professed not to remember having asked Heinz to sit on his lap.
"I might say that to you, but not to her," he told a remale reporter. "Ii try to kid the ones I know, and I don't know her very well. If you'ree here here next year, I'll kid you."
"The legislators treat you much nicer when you go visit their homes or home district offices," said Jean Clark, former state coordinator for the National Organization for Women. "But boy, you get them in Richmond and it's like one big fraternity party or locker room."
She cited incidents of what she called "rude, crude and socially unacceptable" behavior toward women. "And juvenile, they are SO juvenile she complained.
A woman researcher in the assembly's legislative services office says a number of her female colleagues have been swatted on the rear, kissed or pinched.
Such behavior seems to be directed most often toward the younger and more attractive women who occupy the lower echelons of the assembly's power structure -- not usually to women legislators, whose votes are needed by their male colleagues.
Del. Mary Sue Terry (D-Patrick), an attorney who is considered one of the brightest among the new crop of young legislatures, acknowledged that when you get a bunch of male legislators together in the wrong kind of group, "they're like a fifth grade boy."
She should know. Just last week Terry was attending a dinner party for the House Courts of Justice Committee, on which she is the first and only woman to serve. Asked to give the dinner blessing before a group that included some of the state's top judges, Terry interrupted her prayer with a yelp after Del. C. Richard Cranwell (D-Roanoke) started grabbing at her skirt.
Cranwell could not be contacted for a comment about the dinner.
Though Terry laughs the incident off, other women said it and a score of other examples typified the treatment they receive from the Virginia legislature.
Some of those interviewed said problems for women in Richmond were no different than those experienced in government or private industry jobs elsewhere. Several, however, with a basis for comparison, said they felt Virginia "gentlemen" have more difficulty relating to women as peers than do the men in Washington or other government or job centers in the Northeast.
Joann Spevacek, legislative aide to state Sen. Clive L. DuVal (D-Fairfax), said she doesn't enjoy "being treated like a sex object when I'm trying to do my job. I find it demeaning, I really do."
She told of some of her experiences trying to get other legislaltures to cosponsor her boss' bills.
"One delegate asked me to sit down and explain the bill to him, but all the time I was talking he was looking my body up and down," Spevacek said. "I went into the meeting feeling like a legislative aide, and I came out feeling like a whore."
One senior legislator has been known to suggest that the bills pushed by young female lobbyists might be looked on more favorably if they came to his hotel room. The women are divided on whether such remarks are serious, though there is no question such remarks or suggestions have been made by him.
One public interest lobbyist said she thought the man was "joking" until she heard other stories about him.
"It was a proposition, he's done it to others," said another woman. "One lobbyist took him up on it and her bills got treated more favorably."
Out of a package of eight bills introduced by the women in a bipartisan effort in 1977, only one passed. Many of the women sayd the prospects for this year are only slightly better.
"They treat women's legislation as though it were something we were seeking for ourselves -- not for the commonwealth," said Del. Mary A. Marshall (D-Arlington). "They get so tired of hearing from us on women's rights. It oppresses their spirits. They just wait patiently until we're through so they can get on with serious business."
A current male legislator, who said "don't use my name," tells with some discomfort about the day a young aid to a Republican delegate walked into his office in tears because her boss was making sexual demands on her.
"He keeps trying to get me to do things," she sobbed, according to the lawmaker, who helped the young woman find another job in the assembly.
Del. Evelyn M. Hailey (D-Norfolk) recently appeared before the House courts committee on behalf of a bill that would let a man or woman inherit all of a spouse's property if the spouse dies without a will.
"Someone put in an amendment to give the estate to the firstborn male," she says. "They were just messing around, but everybody was voting for it and I was afraid they were going to put it in."
Women legislators, worried about over-identification with so-called women's issues -- have lately started turning to men to sponsor their more controversial measures.
The bill to guarantee the equal split of marital property in divorce cases, sponsored unsuccessfully by the women's caucus last year, was put in by Del. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk) this time around. Still, it was shelved in a House committee before it even got to the floor.
"It's hard for women to get any of it [women's legislation] passed around here because we are such a small minority," says Del. Edythe C. Harrison (D-Norfolk).
Moo Murray, an attorney and former assembly lobbyist, tells of the time a delegate got her in his office, locked the door and started making comments about her body.
But she thinks that most of the male legislators "fundamentally like women" and confine their behavior to innocent "bantering and sort of flirtatious lightheartedness."
As a lobbyist, she encountered what she calls an attitude of "let the cute little girl go through her paces . . . until they learned I had a law degree." l
A woman legislative aide and former lobbyist told of being "kissed on the mouth" by a lawmaker last year. "They do test any woman who comes down here. The question is why are you here or who do you belong to?"
Even the girl pages who work in the General Assembly, aged 12 to 14, run into problems. Marshall says she was "appalled" several years ago when she heard complaints about a male delegate who told a page to "lean over further and let me see your" breasts.
This year at least one page told of being pinched on the buttocks by a delegate on the House floor. Another confesses confusion about a male legislative aid who patted her repeatedly. "I didn't want to complain about it," she says. "I might have gotten in trouble."
Still another said that one delegate doesn't think the girl pages are competent. "Every time I get sent over to help him," she says, "he sends me back and says, 'don't give me girls. I want a boy.'"
Heinz says she can count at least three or four fellow delegates who have been physically offensive while ostensibly conducting assembly business, "and I can tell the difference between some putting his arm around you and someone putting his arm around you, if you know what I mean."
Late night drinking sessions with legislators, only make matters worse, she says remembering the time one followed her to her hotel room and didn't want to go away.
The men counter, however, that they, too, are subject to aggressive behavior. One legislator reluctantly described how he came back to his hotel room one night to find a female assembly aide in his bed. "I spent the night in my car," he said.
Two female legislators also were not sympathetic to complaints by their female aids of harrassment, suggesting that the younger women may in some way have invited trouble.
"I think these sorts of things are very easily handled if a woman wants to handle it," said Hailey. "You shouldn't lead people to believe this kind of thing is all right."
Some of the female researchers in the Capitol resent the advances of legislators, said one, but don't complain for fear or reprisals. "It's dangerous to complain about it," she says. "If you get mad, they might become cool toward you and say something to your superiors."
She said women legislative researchers have a harder time proving themselves than their male counterparts, and blames the belief of many legislators that "women just work as something to do before they get a husband. That's what they think we're doing."
Six of Virginia's nine women legislators were willing to say on the record that the men's attitudes about women at least occasionally posed a hurdle for them.
Heinz, Marshall, Harrison, Terry, McDiarmid and Del. Gladys Keating all said that women legislators, because they are a distinct minority in Richmond, must choose their battles carefully if they are to win. Several added, however, that the women are experts in other fields of legislation like mental health and education, and have no trouble pushing those bills through.
Two others, Sen. Eva Scott (R-Amelia) and Hailey, said the men do view "women's legislation" differently because it comes from women, but argued that that does not pose a serious problem.
Only one, Del. Joan Jones (D-Lynchburg), said she had never perceived any special problems for women in the General Assembly.
Those men interviewed about the status of women in the Old Dominion's legislature discounted the alleged problems. "We feel the ladies are here to represent the people just the way the men are," said Glasscock. "Women stand quite high here."
But some, when pressed, told a story that was quite different.
"If you go off the record, you'd probably get every single male here to tell you they [women] are less effective, and if they were being honest with themselves they'd say it was because they're women," said one legislator who stressed that his political career would suffer greatly if his name were used.
"And that isn't to say that the women aren't terribly capable people, because they are . . . It's an unfortunate thing because so many of the women have so much to offer."